Tag Archives: mindfulness

#vted Reads: Guts, with Lindsey Halman

I’m Jeanie Phillips, and welcome back to #vted Reads, the podcast for, by and with Vermont educators.

And I? Am still here.  As are you.

Now, we recorded this episode with our lovely friend Lindsey Halman back in February 2020, a time that at this point feels almost like a long-ago Camelot, or perhaps as the late great Hunter S. Thompson put it, “that place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back.” It’s the end of March — same year! — and so much about what we do, and how, and where, has changed.

But not the why.

In this episode, we talk about a book called Guts by Raina Telgemeier, and a lot of what we discuss centers around what the main character learns about herself and her body’s reactions to anxiety.

So first and foremost: if you’re not in a space for that right now, I *completely* understand. Put it down. Go meditate. Bake cookies. Take a walk with a child in nature. Listen to 99% Invisible instead.

But for everyone who’s sticking around (and those of you who eventually make it back from the nature walk), thank you. Thank you for being around, and thank you for staying around. It’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling right now.  It’s okay to be overwhelmed, it’s okay to be anxious. But if nothing else, this period in our history has shown us that when the going gets tough, #vted gets tougher. (Y’all commandeered *the buses* for delivering food! The buses!)

Anyway, the work has always been hard, and now it’s just hard in new ways. Ways we’ll find our way around together.

Now: let’s chat.

Jeanie Phillips:  I’m Jeanie Phillips and welcome to #vted Reads. We’re here to talk books for educators, by educators, and with educators.  Today, I’m with Lindsey Halman and we’ll be talking about Guts by Raina Telgemeier.  Thanks for joining me, Lindsey. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Lindsey Halman:  Sure. Thanks, Jeanie, for having me.  I was a middle level educator for 15 years and my heart is always with young adolescents  Those were my people. And I currently am the executive director of Unleashing the Power of Partnership for Learning –also known as Up for Learning.  So I have the privilege of working with schools across Vermont.

Jeanie:  Excellent.  Well, I’m so excited to have you on the podcast.  And you brought this book to my attention: Guts. Although, as school librarian who’s worked K-6 and 7-12, I have to say Raina Telgemeier has been a big hit with my previous students for many years.  And her books were always hard to keep on the shelves. Always books I had to have multiple copies of.  But I’m really excited to talk about this one. Like Smile and some of her other books it’s a memoir, told in comic or graphic form.  And I wondered if you introduce us to the Raina in this specific book.

Lindsey:  Sure.  So, I should also I mention that I’m a parent. That’s probably the most important piece! Parent of a nine year old.  o, this book really resonated with me and my daughter as we read it together. So, I just wanted put that piece in there. And so Raina, the author and Raina, the character, we see her between 4th and 5th grade in the story. So, she is nine. And she describes herself as nervous, self-conscious, shy and quiet. Except when she’s with her close friends, Jane and Nicole. And I would say that that’s maybe what people when she’s in school are those qualities of just maybe being shy and quiet. But she has so much more to her.  She’s a Girl Scout.  She’s an artist.  She loves to draw, create comics.

She’s an older sibling; she has two younger siblings. She lives in an apartment with a family of five. And her family feels very well connected and supportive of one another, both in the sense of they live in a tight space and so they’re sharing and in close quarters. But also they are sharing and in close quarters as in their relationships. So, they have very supportive relationships with one another.

Jeanie:  Yeah. I love that you bring out that she may appear one way in school. But then in her family and in her friendships outside of school she shows up in a different way.

Lindsey:  Yeah. She even says like, in the book on page 11, she says like: “I was a nervous kid, self-conscious, shy, quiet. Most of the time.”  And I think a lot of young adolescents, including myself when I was that age, could really connect with that, because you have your people. And her people are Jane and Nicole. And at lunch time, at recess, when they’re laughing and sharing food and reading comics together, that’s where she kind of can take off that armor and be her true self. That’s when knows that her people love her for who she is.

Jeanie: Yeah. Yesterday morning I read this piece from The Atlantic about the importance of middle school friendships. Why they matter. And that really makes me think of that article and the way middle school friendships impact our resilience and our capacity to learn. And the way our brain functions, especially for young adolescents.

Lindsey: Absolutely. I mean, I think it’s, both you get the feedback from your friends: you can try out who you are and who you want to be, and get that feedback. Just both forming your identity and getting the feedback. But also then, you know, having those close connections where you feel like there is an outlet for those thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings you can’t share with any other outlet. And I remember that as a young adolescent, and I now can see it as a parent. Just the different ways that we show up both in our different parts of our lives and where our true authentic self comes out.

Jeanie: Well, speaking of authenticity, this is just such a middle school book. It’s set in middle school — early middle school really, but there’s all these changes and transitions and gross-out jokes and friend drama. And I wondered if to you, as a middle school teacher, somebody who’s been a long time in middle school, if it feels authentic to you?

Lindsey:  Yeah.  It definitely did.  So, number one it felt super authentic to me. In the book on page eight, she says: “Fourth grade was pretty much one long gross-out contest.” And I just remember that experience. And I can reflect on what my daughter is experiencing now.  But I also can reflect on what they’re looking at.  Like, there’s a group of kids  in the cafeteria looking at, it looks like Garbage Pail Kids. And so I feel like maybe Raina and I might be around the same age! And so I can kind of relate to some of the things that she incorporated here too.

So absolutely. Like, I’ve fourth through eight grade in my career as an educator and I think she really captured it in many ways. They’re on the cusp of puberty and they’re just kind of figuring out, like, “Is it still cool to do this?”

And there’s also that sense of like wanting to be friends with somebody but not knowing how to do that.

I think we see that sometimes with Michelle, who sometimes says things that can rub Raina the wrong way and make her feel like maybe Michelle doesn’t care for her.  But in all reality it seems like at the end it’s really trying to figure out who are your people and how do you connect with each other and how do get people’s attention and–

Jeanie:  Michelle is a classmate.

Lindsey:  Michelle is a classmate. Yes We find out at the end that Michelle is also dealing with her own physical ailment as well. And that’s been hard for her and no one knows that. We learn that we all have our stories. We find out that Michelle’s in the hospital because she had surgery on her intestines.

You learn that everyone has their thing. Their story.  People are all dealing with stuff. And we don’t always see it on the outside.

So, for Raina, this idea that she’s dealing with anxiety. It’s a real issue. And right at the time where she’s at, that’s where we start to see anxiety in our youth as well, coming to the surface.  It’s right on the, you know, cusp of puberty where anxiety often really starts to show itself.

It starts to feel like: “What’s happening me? Because I was fine before when did all these things.  And now, I have a hard time going to school because I’m worried I’m going to get sick” Or because I’m worried about standing in front of my peers and sharing information or a number of things. So the worries can start to consume young people. Just like for Michelle, it was physical ailment.  And it was consuming her in a different way.

Jeanie: So, one of the things that came up really for me in reading this book is not only is anxiety emerging for some young people, right?  And they’re dealing with that? They’re also just trying to identify it in the first place. It shows up in all of these different ways. And I think it’s so much harder to struggle with something that you don’t know what it is or you think it’s just figment of your imagination. Part of the process of maybe becoming less anxious is just naming it in the first place.

And so I wondered… I guess what that makes me think about is: how do we show up for young people when we are not sure what they are dealing with, they’re not sure what they are dealing with, anxiety looks like all these different things, it’s not really our job to diagnose them–  And so, I guess I am just asking what’s the best way for us as adults to show up in classrooms with the potential of having anxious students?

Lindsey:  Yes, I think that’s a great question. Statistically I think it’s one out of five young people have an anxiety disorder. We *all* have anxiety, it’s part of the primitive part of our brain. Worries are important to have because it helps us remove ourselves from dangerous situations, in our primitive brain. But it’s when the worries start to take over and impact our daily life, that it becomes a greater concern.

And just like you said Jeanie, it can manifest in so many different ways. I think what ends up happening is that, as adults, sometimes we are quick to jump to labels like, oh that’s a tension issues or that’s you know, resistance to work or that’s this or that’s that …and that’s not really okay.

Because as we see with Raina, it can look like so many things. It can look like avoidance. It can look like feeling sick.  But it sure can manifest in a physical way.

It can also get in the way of relationships which I think we see that with Raina in her friendships, because it’s starting to consume her. So I think we need to be really careful as adults in recognizing that:

  1. there is a lot of young people in our classroom that are experiencing this and,
  2. that it’s going to look different for every individual.

Someone in my life once told me when someone has for instance diabetes, we know that they need to take care of themselves in a certain way.

The same thing for anxiety. If you have anxiety, a major part of your life is impacted by this particular, I don’t know if we call it illness or…

Jeanie:  Condition.

Lindsey:  Condition, right. And just like diabetes, you treat yourself in a certain way. You take care of yourself. We need to recognize there are ways we can get a handle on our anxiety, and support all of our students in that.

There is one thing when she begins therapy with her therapist Lauren and I really loved that relationship, because Lauren teaches her just basically her key mantra to her is: try.  Because Raina says, there are all these thoughts in my heads and that manifest in all these feelings in my body. But sometimes articulating what it is that’s causing those thoughts and feelings is really hard. And Lauren coaches her in just this idea of try.

The other thing that I loved and this really connected me to a colleague and friend Anya Schaunessy, who does a lot of work with schools throughout Vermont. And thinking about a whole-school restorative approach. And mindfulness.  She has her own poster, her own mantra — two feet one breath. If we can just, when we start to feel those feelings or think those thoughts, put our two feet on the ground and take a deep breath. You can feel a complete change in your body.

And that’s reflected in what Lauren shares with Raina as well. She just says put your two feet on the ground and take a deep breath. And Raina ends up sharing that with her classmate as a strategy at the end of the book as well.

Jeanie: This makes me think so much about how trauma-informed practice is good practice for every student…

Lindsey:  Absolutely.

Jeanie: It feels like a mindfulness practice in the classroom. It’s good for every student even if we are doing it in a way to help our anxious students, our anxious learners.

I also was really interested in the relationship Raina has with her therapist, which is one of the ways that she is taking care of herself.

#vted Reads Guts

Jeanie: I am going to turn to pages 112 and 113 because there is a lot going on here. Jane says to Raina, how come you are late for school so much?  And Raina to her close friends says, she thinks in her head because I go to therapist. And then she also imagines that Jane might say, why?  Is something wrong with you?  Are you crazy?

So, instead of having that because of that fear she says, I can’t tell you. Which puts a barrier in their friendship. But also that word, “crazy” gets thrown around a lot usually in ways that are insensitive or offensive to people with mental illnesses.

And so there is a lot going in here, her fear of telling somebody that she is seeing a therapist.  This word that sort of is unkind and it’s used maybe and then also just like the stigma attached to being in therapy.  And I wondered if we could just talk about that?

Lindsey:  Yeah, I would love to. Well the first piece that comes to mind is that, here is her closest friend, her BFF, you know. The person that knows her better than anyone you know, of all of her peers and she can’t tell her this thing. It makes me think of like, okay if you broke your leg and you had to go to physical therapy? Or if you had, I don’t know physical illness, you needed to go to your pediatrician or your doctor, and someone asked you where you were? You would not hesitate to tell them.

So, it’s frustrating to me as both just a human and as an educator that there is such a stigma with therapy. And that this is most important organ in our body — our brains, right? And then there is so much going on and it impacts everything we do, and that we can’t just be opened about the idea that therapy is really important. Just like if I broke my leg and needed to learn how to use my leg in the proper way again so I could be as mobile as possible?

Therapy is essential for those that experience anxiety disorder.

And so, the idea of this word crazy also really doesn’t settle with me either Jeanie.  Because what does that even mean? You know? And when we say people are crazy we have these pictures that come to mind that aren’t even accurate.

Jeanie:  Okay.  One of the things that I wonder about as a lover of books, as an avid reader is Raina is telling her memoir? And kind of imagine that that was the thought that she had, in that time, in that place, at that age. I’m not really criticizing her use of the word on the page necessarily; that might be her authentic experience.

But I’m also wondering about how we might talk to kids about why we might not want to use that word or how we might even talk towards those about why we may not want to use that word.  And I think about, oh, the fabulous Rebecca Haslin talking about how a friend called her out — called her in — for using that word.  She said, do you realize how often you use that word?  And I have been noticing my own vocabulary.

Lindsey:  Me too.

Jeanie:  I use “guys” a lot and I am trying to stop that.   And I have just tried to be more aware of the language I use and the impacted it might have regardless of my intent.

Lindsey:  Yeah, absolutely. I agree with everything you just said. And I agree that also Raina probably, that’s the way she felt at the time. Like, I don’t think there is anything wrong with her putting this in her story at all.  I don’t think it’s really important, to like have that there because that is the stigma that’s attached. And then you worry that that’s how people are labeled. Like, why are we giving folks labels that are not even accurate?  And so, I think that it helps at the end: the girls at the sleepover party are sharing some really personal information.  And it’s time for Raina to share and she puts it out there.

That feeling of like, okay, I can let, take off the mask and truly be authentic and real and show up. And she tells them that she goes to a therapist. And they are like, oh my parents go to a therapist. Oh, my brother goes to a therapist. And what happens in that scenario is it normalizes therapy, you know, the idea of going to a therapist. Which for those that experience anxiety really supports them in understanding that that is a normal feeling, that it’s okay.

And then, that’s one last thing that you have to worry about is being, once you start talking about it and being real with people, you start to realize that it allows other folks to be real, too. Like you. And I think with students we need to be having these conversations. We talk about all different other, you know, impacts on us as far as our health and well-being, but we keep for some reason, anxiety and depression as very taboo topics still in our society.  And I just wonder how we can make them more accessible and just part of our natural vocabulary. Because if one in five student in our classrooms are showing up with an anxiety disorder? That’s a lot of folks in our classroom that might be having similar experiences to Raina did.

Jeanie:  It makes me think about how shame thrives in the dark.  Right?  And talking about it brings it out to the light. And so, Raina has been carrying this shame that really – it’s a burden she need not have carried.

Lindsey:  Right, there’s other burdens that she’s carrying.  We all carry burden but shame is definitely not one of them. And once, I think that it feels like from the pages what I can feel for Raina is that once she was able to really share her story with her peers?  It probably offers some light to her.  You know, that lightness both in her body and in her way that she can walk through the world.

Jeanie:  I think it’s really obvious to me now that it’s important for this book to exist in the world.  And so, I think it was important for Raina Telgemeier to share her experience.  But I also think it’s just important for those kids – those one in five that you keep mentioning to see themselves in this book. And I wondered if you wanted to talk about that?

Lindsey:  Yeah, I really think we need more stories like this. And that is the beauty I think in many ways of Raina Telgemeier’s work is that, I just remember like you said, the books in the library because they were always on the table in my classrooms.  I just remember all the copies of Smile and Sisters and now Guts.  They’re always being carried around like these are essential text for young people because (a), they are accessible and (b), they really resonate in the sense that, hey I have had those feelings too.

And there’s like some takeaways as well! Like, okay so Raina worked through it in this way. Here’s some strategies, maybe these will work for me. And that, seeing yourself reflected on the pages, which I think is just the beauty of all books is like, it just gives you that connection that there’s other’s that are experiencing similar things. That you are not alone. That there is others that have these thoughts, feelings, experiences and it’s a way to share that.

So I feel really grateful to Raina Telgemeier for sharing her story.  It’s not an easy story to share, as we know, when you are sharing your personal experiences. I think that this book could potentially become a really important one for young adolescents in the sense that it allows them to have open conversations about anxiety.  And other mental disorders or illnesses that impact themselves and their peers.

Jeanie:  Yeah.  I think we both are unanimous in our agreement about that. Now, there is another book that Raina Telgemeier has written more recently that maybe *isn’t* the story she should have told.  And that’s this book, Ghost. It has encountered some really critical feedback.  And it concerns me because I suspect it’s on the shelves in our Vermont schools because once you have an author like Raina Telgemeier, you buy every book.

So, I want to talk a little bit about Ghost. And why we might want to think about its place in our collections, and how we might to students about it. You’ve read Ghost recently?

Lindsey:  I have, yes.  And when we had talked about this conversation around Guts, we had both agreed that there is, you know, that that was something that would be really important to center in this conversation as well.  When I went back to do some further research preparing for today, I stumbled upon a PSA that group of students, I think they were fifth and sixth grader, created at their school on Ghost and the idea of cultural appropriation.

Jeanie:  Before we talk about their PSA, could we just give a little over view of Ghost.  I think it’s about two sisters who move to the coast of California. And their neighbor. Do you want to pick this up?

Lindsey:  Yeah.  One of the sisters has cystic fibrosis.  And so, the climate where they move is much more – is a much healthier climate for her to be in as far as her ability to move throughout her life.

Jeanie: So, the two sisters’ move to the coast of California and their neighbor Carlos become a friend and they start exploring with him. Then he takes them to a nearby Spanish mission. And that’s where the story really starts to go array *despite* Telgemeier’s best intentions.

Lindsey: Yes. So, I think what ends up happening young people like to explore kind of the spooky side of things and the mysterious part of life. But what ends up happening is that there’s a lot of exploration around Dia de los Muertos and the interpretation of what that is becomes very much like the American Halloween — which it really is *not*. And there was a lot of feedback to Raina and her book around the fact that it was really not representing both the holiday itself and how it’s celebrated and/or experience.

Jeanie:  One of the things that interested me — and Debbie Reese, in particular, has a really wonderful post about it — is that mission are colonial institutions that were designed to do a very specific things. They were designed to “convert” Native people, right? And there’s a lot of pain and there was a lot of violence done in missions.

But Telgemeier presents the mission as this happy place and this Ghost as happy place. And Debbie Reese really asks the question: “…Really?” To sort of… sanitize, the mission on the page? Is also problematic.

Lindsey:  Yes. The idea of forcing assimilation to the dominant culture is really problematic too. So, we lose an entire narrative of an entire group of people —  many different groups of people — who are impacted. And I think from what I did afterward was go to Raina Telgemeier’s site just to see like what did she have as an author’s a response? Because when you’re an author, you’re putting your thoughts and feeling out in to the world. And there’s going to be critique in many different ways.

Telgemeier recognized that this was all huge learning opportunity for her. That she had her story: she grew up in San Francisco and experienced things in her dominant culture that lens.  Yet she recognized that this was a big mistake. And that she learn a lot a from the experience. So, I appreciated reading Raina’s letter.

Jeanie:  So, I think that’s really interesting! Right now as we’re talking, there’s all this saga about the novel American Dirt, which is a Mexican immigration story, migrant story written by a white woman.  And I’ve been following that because I’m really interested in #ownvoices stories, story written by the people who share identities with the people they’re writing about, right?

And so, one of the things that’s made me really think about is well — several things. One is that how easy it is as a white person, as a person that’s a part of the dominant culture to not notice that dominance of your own culture. It’s like the water we swim in: fish don’t recognize the water they are in, right?

Lindsey:  Right.

Jeanie: And so it’s hard for us to name it.  And I think that’s a trap that is really easy to fall in to when you’re part of the dominant culture.

Lindsey:  Yes.

Jeanie: So thinking about American Dirt has made me think about being an educator. Myself as an educator. And it has made me a little bit uncomfortable because I think about how often I was in front of group of students and I was interpreting their behavior and their words through *my* lens without ever actually questioning my own accuracy. I do tell stories in my brain about what’s going on for my learners.

And it has made me really like think about: how do I challenge myself on those stories? Who do I need to talk to see those students more clearly?  So… I don’t know. Those are very much thoughts in progress that I’m still grabbling with and wrestling with.  But these books where authors tell stories that maybe aren’t their own or include elements of stories that maybe aren’t their own or that they can’t fully understand as white people have me thinking about my own whiteness and how it shows up in spaces.

Lindsey:  Yeah. Absolutely.  And so, a number of things like just the going back to Guts, how you know, the story that we might tell ourselves as educators about how the student showing up when they’re experiencing anxiety and we’re calling it that they don’t care about learning or — we put this labels on them.

Jeanie:  They are hypochondriac or…

Lindsey:  ADHD or ADD.  We throw around a lot of labels a lot and we don’t know.  So, how do we get to know? That’s, I think, a really important piece to also being a white woman: what are the ways in which I can truly understand the learners in front of me? The folks which I spend my day with, if I’m in classroom. That’s the thing: we need to be taking time to share stories. To truly understand, to sit down and have time to connect. It comes back to that relationship.

If you’re not – if you don’t really have those deep conversations with your learners and the youth that you’re working with, to truly get to know who they are and you know what is their experience, what does that mean for them and really having opportunities for everyone to hear from each other? Then we end up creating these stories in our head and interpreting them in our own way. And so, whereas Raina had this experience growing up in San Francisco, and maybe you know, this was her experience. Well, she just erased an entire experience for many, many people. And I think we need to be cautious as educators, as white educators to not erase those experiences in our classroom every day.

Jeanie:  And I need people to help me do that.  Like, I need folks to challenge my assumptions. And in many ways I think, probably the author of American Dirt and maybe even Raina Telgemeier had editors, had people, to look at their work and help them think about it but maybe they weren’t the right people.

Lindsey:  Yeah, I agree. I feel like when I first started teaching this idea of cultural appropriation? I didn’t know what that really meant. I feel so lucky that we now have folks like Debbie Reese and many other scholars and thinkers that in a movement this idea of the movement of our own voices? I just wish when I was growing up that that was present.

You know, so, I think about that when I read books with my daughter.  And we can talk about that.  So, in many ways, even reading Ghost, like do i think Ghost should be removed from my library?  I don’t think so.

That PSA that I saw from these fifth and six graders? They made a whole PSA on cultural preparation and how it shows up in Ghost.

In their library, they put up signage around the books so that people understand that this book: you might really enjoy it, it might resonate with you in some ways, *and* it’s really important that you now investigate it through this angle, too.  I think that is a deeper learning opportunity. That when we can say I read this book *and* I know that it shows sign of cultural preparation.  I want to learn now more about *this* story too.

So what’s the story that’s being told? What’s the story that’s not being told? I really think that’s reading in a really different way, a really critical way of reading books. It elevates just the deeper levels of thinking that we can do with our youth when we’re reading texts. And I don’t think it is necessarily to say we need to remove all these books.  But we need to now look at these books critically.  Who’s showing up, who’s not?  And then what is this idea of cultural appropriation?

Jeanie:  So, I think that’s a tremendous opportunity to really think deeply about literature and about storytelling.  And I know that there are some folks doing some really interesting work around that.  Christy Nold is doing great work in her classroom and around whose stories are we telling, and whose are we not. Marley Evans is doing amazing work around that.  I’m sure there’s so many of you out there in Vermont schools doing that work and we appreciate that.

Lindsey:  Absolutely.

Jeanie:  I’m going to tell a story from my own experience. About another Raina Telgemeier book: Drama. Drama has been around…  Let me just look at the publication date on this book. Copyright 2012. About the time that I move from a K-6 school l to a 7-12 school this book was out.  And it came out after Smile. Smile was a big hit, actually.  And in the district where I work this book was on the shelf at the local K-6, as it should be.

Drama is a delightful story.

And in it, listeners, two boys smooch.

Kids love this book and I think it’s an important part. An important growing part of collections that represent gay and queer folks across age ranges. From picture books up through young adult novels.  But what happened, and I was no longer at the school, but what happened was a parent complained about Drama.  And the book got removed from the shelf, from the library.

Lindsey: Oh.

Jeanie: And the librarian there and I went wrote a letter saying waaaaaait a minute, this book belongs on the shelf. It belongs on the shelf because we have gay students or students with gay family members, gay friends. They deserve to see their realities on the shelf just like every kid does.  Every kid needs this book in the library.  And the decision was to pull the book.

This is the part I really want to share.

One of my gratitudes of Raina Telgemeier is that, the superintendent made that call without following our library policy.  Librarians, you know you have these policies about the selection of books, right? And those policies should — and I hope do — include what happens when a book is challenged. Because one family complained? Is not enough to pull a book off the shelf.

And so we took that policy to the superintendent in a meeting and said look the policy says this. The policy says that a parent or member of the community has to make a written complaint about the book and explain why.

Then you have to form a committee. The committee has to read the book, right.  Like you don’t get to make to not read the book and decide it doesn’t belong on the library shelf. The committee has to read the book and they have to decide.

And so the superintendent did agree, thank you very much.

The book went back on the shelf and the family got to agree make a written complaint. Well they didn’t.  And so I think they didn’t make a written complaint and so the book just stayed on the shelf.

And I think it’s up to us, librarians, educators to stand up when something gets pulled because two boys smooch.

Lindsey:   Oh my goodness. The idea of censorship you know in a library and just the fact that one person had a complain. I’m sure if we all went into a library there be one book that maybe it doesn’t resonate with us or doesn’t align with our values? Or more!  And at the same time it’s a really important book.

There’s so many important books. How can we censor what’s in a library? And we know that Raina Telgemeier resonate with so many young adolescents and young people.  For me as an educator, I had young people that struggled with reading, yet they found themselves in Raina Telgemeier’s books Smile, Drama, Sisters.  And those were their books, their go-to books.  And just to see the fact that a book would be removed because one it doesn’t align maybe to one person’s values?

I’m really happy to hear there is good policy.

And I wonder also if when that group of people come together to read the book to decide whether yes it should be indeed in our library or not?  If that group involves youth.  And whose making those decisions about what shows up in libraries and what doesn’t show up in libraries?  And I think that’s where we then find educator having classroom libraries that are reflective of their students and beyond, in offering diverse stories.

Jeanie:  So that rings true to me.  I agree that young people belong on those committees.  I don’t think they need very often because I think once people feel like they have to put something in writing, they reconsider.

Lindsey:  Totally.

Jeanie:  But it does also make me think about gatekeepers, right. Like, the gatekeepers is the people that keep books off the shelf and the people who condone books to be put on the shelf. Most school librarians, most librarians, read reviews to determine which books to add to their collection. And I wonder what reviewer said about Ghost and the importance of Debbie Reese’s voice in providing a counter review, right? And then I also think about there have been some studies done that some reviewers will label certain books as controversial.

In a way that keeps those books of the shelf of keeps librarians who may be don’t want to put themselves out there in that way from purchasing those books or keeps teachers from reading them as class reads. A lot of times those are books that are about the experiences of LGBTQ characters. And I just I guess again asking us to bring that critical lens to what we think is controversial and how our own assumptions and biases are embedded in that.

Lindsey:  Absolutely.  Yes I think I am so, I feel really grateful when I was in the classroom to have had a [school] library that really offered so many different stories and perspectives for young people. And when it didn’t, I made sure that those books were in my classroom library.  And I feel really grateful to have a town library — I live in Jericho [VT].  And Jericho Town Library? Just a shout out to Lisa at Jericho Town Library.

Jeanie:  Lisa Buckton, you rock.

Lindsey:  Amazing and she has just, she gets it.  Like she is one that you know we can go in there at any point.  And my daughter can just find a book that just and so many new books that resonate. And also shares so many stories that might not actually represent the culture of Jericho. Big surprise! And offer a lot of those windows into the stories of others as well as those mirrors, you know. Where we can find ourselves in the pages as well.

Jeanie:  Shout out to Rudine Sims Bishop for giving us the language of Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Doors. We appreciate the way you help us think about literature in that way. And a shout out to librarians, for all that you do to provide diverse books and stories and experiences for our young people.  And to help them become critical readers of those stories and develop that capacity to really look at stories both fiction and non-fiction with a lens towards whose story is being told and whose story is missing.  And what does that tell us about power.

Lindsey:  Yes and I would just also added for educators just to when exploring literature in our classroom.  Just to always ask that question whose story is being told and whose story is *not* being told.  And I think there in itself offers so many different opportunities for folks to show up and be authentic and share their own experiences. And be critical thinkers  I mean, I think we really are pushing our learners to think differently about literature.  And I felt just really grateful for that.

Jeanie:  And ourselves.

Lindsey:  Yes.

Jeanie:  Lindsey, that’s an excellent way to end, thank you so much for being my guest and waiting into this very messy conversation about Raina Telgemeier’s books.

Lindsey:  Yes, thank you Jeanie.

Guts Lindsey Halman

3 ways to bring positive emotional energy to your school

Positive emotional energy makes positive learning.

We need systems focused on creating positive and safe climates. We also need, as educators, to be focused on developing, building, and sustaining learning institutions brimming with positive emotions. That is an enormous task, but we can start by having some personal accountability for just ourselves.

  • What if our brains were co-dependent on our emotions?
  • What if negative experiences caused our brains to shut off?
  • And what if positive emotions and positive experiences actually caused our brains to develop and grow?

It turns out, all three may be true according to research released by Linda Darling-Hammond from Stanford University and the Learning Policy Initiative. The research basically finds that emotion and learning are tightly connected. Positive school relationships and positive school experiences actually activate neural pathways.

One key finding from the study is that “The brain’s capacity develops most fully when children and youth feel emotionally and physically safe; when they feel connected, supported, engaged, and challenged.”

When we work in schools or other learning environments, these spaces are full of energy and emotion.

Because of the complex work that is happening, the energy and emotion can contain struggle, stress, disequilibrium. It’s not always positive, and we can’t change that. We can’t control others, but we can be responsible for our own emotions and choices.

I know this is daunting stuff. But here are three ways to start putting positive emotions and climate in the front seat of your work.

bring positive emotional energy to learning

1. Build personal connection into your routines

It sounds simplistic, but it can make a huge difference. At my organization, we started a new “Connecting” routine at the start of every meeting day. We begin by sharing a personal response to something that is not school or work-related. For example, “What book is on your nightstand right now?” or “What winter tradition brings you joy”. Taking the time to connect with one another as humans before we get into the grittiness of work has made a huge difference in our satisfaction and productivity.

2. Keep a gratitude journal

Teaching and leading is exhausting and expending work. It’s important to acknowledge what is good and appreciate what you have. What’s more, it’s been proven that practicing gratitude changes your brain. Start with a daily 5 minute practice of writing down three things that you are grateful for at the end of the school day. They may be profound some days. Other days you might write, “I’m grateful for the fresh air that I could breathe during the fire drill” and leave it at that. It still works to appreciate and notice the positive.

(If you would indulge me, I’d love to hear from teachers who have used gratitude journals with their students.)

3. Put face-to-face human interactions first.

I’ve noticed a sad trend in our society as we focus on faster, better, more efficient systems.

We forget to enjoy basic human interaction.

I sometimes stand in line at a coffee shop as the staff jumps around to serve the drive-thru window, makes me wait, and ignores my human face. We’re all doing our best with our fast-paced jobs and lives, but I wish I could just have a moment with them to smile and say, “Hi!” When real humans are in front of us, let’s notice them and enjoy them. The emails and texts and online forms can all wait for a more solitary moment.

“Please take responsibility for the energy that you bring into this space”.

I heard this spoken by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor on an Oprah podcast while driving home from my night class. This neuroscientist experienced a massive stroke in 1996, and she had the unique opportunity to learn from her own damaged and healing brain. Dr. Taylor experienced something quite remarkable; because she had only a functioning left hemisphere of her brain, she lost the ability to understand speech and memory. She could only access her reality as a current, non-verbal moment in time. She essentially, could only perceive what she describes as “the energy” that another person emits in her presence.

In her hospital recovery, Dr. Taylor understood that she was extremely sensitive to the “energy”  of people who visited her, and that included doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff. Since this energy was all that she could perceive and sense, it was critical to her health and well-being. She ultimately created a poster or sign and placed  it outside of her room. It said,

“Please take responsibility for the energy that you bring into this space”.

When I think of what Dr. Taylor means by “energy”, I can best sum it up as the collective attitude, emotion, disposition, and behavior of an individual person. I think of energy as related to school climate. In many schools, we are sharing space with hundreds of other individuals. We are part of a system containing multitudes of emotions and attitudes, and each individual’s energy has an impact on one another. That contributes to the climate of the school, and we know that climate is more important than ever.

Because as Darling-Hammond’s research points out,

“Emotions and social relationships affect learning. Positive relationships, including trust in the teacher, and positive emotions, such as interest and excitement, open up the mind to learning.”


bring positive emotional energy

Please be mindful and responsible for the emotions that you create within your system. We can bring positive emotional energy to learning — both our own and that of our students.

#vted Reads: The Power of Moments, with Rachel Mark

Thank you for joining us for another episode of #vted Reads.

#vted Reads logoThis time we will be discussing The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. We’ll look for ways to make classroom moments more powerful, explore opportunities to raise the stakes for your students, and visit the popsicle hotline.

Oh, and we’ll talk about the “soul-sucking force of reasonableness.”

On to the conversation!

Jeanie:  I’m Jeanie Phillips and welcome to #vted Reads. We’re here to talk books for educators, by educators, and with educators. Today. I’m with Rachel Mark, and we’ll be talking about The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Thanks for joining me, Rachel. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Rachel: I’m Rachel Mark. I live in the southern part of Vermont, and I am in my fourth year of working as a professional development coordinator for the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education. Prior to that, I was a middle school teacher for 16 years in Manchester at Manchester Elementary Middle School, and I’m also a mom. I’ve got three kids, an 8-year old, a 12-year old and a 15-year old, and we all live in sometimes happiness with our dog and my husband in southern Vermont.

Host Jeanie Phillips, left and guest Rachel Mark, right hold a copy of the book The Power of Moments

Jeanie:  Excellent. Thanks for joining me.

I know you and I are very excited about this book, The Power of Moments by the Heath Brothers.

Jeanie:  Let’s just talk a little bit about what it’s about. The Heath brothers talk about defining moments and they described them as meaningful experiences that stand out in memory. Why do you think they took the time to write about them?

Rachel:  That’s a great question. I think one of the things thats so lovely about this book is that it’s psychology, but it’s also culture and sociology, and I love that the Heath brothers think about these parts of our behavior and our lives that are kind of overlooked and tried to look at them really carefully and examine what’s unique about them. This interested me when it first came out, because I have noticed some of the same sort of observations that they have about why or something is so special.

Why are some moments more impactful and meaningful than others?

So, part of me was darn it! They beat me to writing this book, but they’re far more accomplished writers, and I’m glad that they beat me to it.

Jeanie:  Yeah. So, let’s give some examples. I’m going to give a non-education example of a defining moment that just delighted me early in this book, in the introduction. So, I’m going to turn to page 10. This defining moment takes place at a hotel. Actually, it’s called Magic Castle and it’s in Los Angeles, outside of Disneyland. So, here’s the description.

Let’s start with the cherry-red phone mounted to a wall near the pool. You pick it up and someone answers, “Hello, Popsicle hotline.” You place an order, and minutes later, a staffer wearing white gloves delivers your cherry, orange, or grape popsicle to you at poolside. On a silver tray. For free.


I love this idea that if I went to a hotel and there was a cherry red phone, and I got to pick it up in order my popsicle, and it came out like almost livery service. I would be so delighted and I would never forget that.

Rachel:  It is unforgettable. At the same time, there was a piece of this that troubled me about this leading the book, because it does develop this idea about moments and memory, but it was also such a kind of trivial example, silly example that I wanted more from the book which comes.

Jeanie: So, this book is organized in such a way that it has two goals. One is to examine defining moments, and what makes them memorable, or meaningful, what helps them stick with us. Then the second goal is to help us create more defining moments so that we can improve our lives and the lives of other people around us. So, it’s not an education book, right? It’s a popular press book.

We can look at it through the lens of what makes a moment a defining moment, and then how can we create more defining moments in education.

Rachel:  Right. When you said that it prompted me to look at the book and notice that it’s really suggested as a business and economics book. I would also call it a psychology book and sociology because I think so much at play psychologically and sociologically. But as I read this, I read this as both an educator and the mother of children. I have no frame as a business leader, but I could see so many applications of this book to education.

Jeanie:  Yeah, I could too. My son has now left my nest, so I read it as an educator and also as somebody who just wants to have more memorable moments in her own life, as a human.

1. Elevation: building “peaks”

Jeanie:  So, let’s look at what makes up a defining moment, and the first thing the Heath brothers go into is elevation. What do they mean by elevation?

Rachel:  A few things stick out to me about their definition of elevation. They describe elevation as two things: building peaks and breaking the script.

To me, the piece about building peaks was resonant.

I do think that we have moments that stand out more than others in our lives, and that those moments must do something to us that’s transformative. They either provide for us a feeling in our hearts, or some kind of fizziness in our brain chemistry, but I do know as I’ve lived my life that something happens to me when I think about certain parts of my life. I’d be concerned if that didn’t happen for other people.

So, the piece about building peaks to me was really important. That’s probably why I really latched onto that senior signing day. One of the other stories that is important to me from the book is the story that comes from Hillsdale High, where teachers recognized that there were not enough kind of peaks for students in their high school experience.  A couple of really creative teachers developed an experience called the trial of human nature.

It’s essentially a kind of interdisciplinary and experiential learning experience that I believe was introduced for juniors at this particular high school. It’s a public school in California. It became so popular that I think other teachers in this school started to feel perhaps a little let down, and so some other teachers develop then something called a senior exhibition.

This person who is now the principal of this school named Jeff Gilbert talks on page 51 in a way about school that made sense to me.

School needs to be so much more like sports.

“School needs to be much more like sports,” he added. “In sports, there’s a game, and it’s in front of an audience. We run school like it is nonstop practice. You never get a game. Nobody would go out for the basketball team if you never had a game. What is the game for the students?”

That was something that I felt in my own experience as a teacher. I felt like even for myself, for my own, I don’t want to say sanity, but I needed things to look forward to, and moments to build up to, and moments of performance that we’re both engaging and fulfilling for the student, and as a teacher, I found them fulfilling too.

Jeanie:  I just want to throw in there that this really resonated for me as a student.  What I don’t remember is ninth grade history, because it was textbook, worksheets, and a teacher with a really droning voice, and it was the opposite of peaks. It was the flattest course ever, which made me think I was a terrible history student. But then I had Mr. Richardson and I had him for Russian history which I loved, and I had him for AP world history.

My most memorable high school experience or performance comes from his class where we had a debate.

We were put on teams, and I was on team Germany, and we had to debate who started the Second World War. Germany’s a tough person to be in that position, but I took that challenge. We had a panel of experts, and we got points, and I don’t want to brag or anything but I kind of won. The Germany kind of won that year, and I still think of that as so memorable, because it was a peak. We worked really hard towards it. We knew that there were these expert historians coming in, and I still remember it. I still know more about the start of World War II than I do about any other point in history.

Rachel:  That’s a great example of building peaks in the experience of school. I tried, but I could not think of many moments like that in my own experience in school, which may be why I’m so motivated to cultivate those moments for students now. I thought a lot about how some of the work that you and I do with schools that involves using strategies and approaches around project-based learning, complements this idea of building peaks.

The nature of project-based learning is that there’s some authenticity to the work, and hopefully some public performance and public product.

I have always felt like that’s a really important element of project-based learning. It helped me to think about those aspects of PBL within the context of this book and how it is about building a powerful moment.

Jeanie:  Exhibitions are often our powerful moments.

This morning I was at Leland and Gray with an engineer and somebody who worked in an architect firm, and we were giving feedback to seventh and eighth-grade students on their designs for projectile launchers for battle physics.

This was one sort of peak moment on the way to a larger peak, which is when they compete with students from Dorset School and Green Mountain Middle and High School. Their launchers go head to head to see you can hit the targets.

So, we have many other examples of schools doing really fabulous exhibitions where they build these peaks for students to show off. Do you have others you want to share?

Rachel:  I don’t have a specific one I want to share, but what you’re talking about makes me wonder what are the sort of conditions that are at play when we’re building those peaks. It makes me think about a few things. As you and I have worked with some schools in the last year or two, I do think that there is an element of fun with this event and that the peak event.

We may be in danger of underestimating the importance of fun.

Because I think that though we don’t want to put that at the forefront of our educational experiences and our assessments, that is probably what makes some of these things so memorable.

Jeanie:  Right, and the Heath brothers talk about two different aspects of peaks.

One is that they have sensory appeal that makes me think about what you’re saying with fun. They appeal to our senses. The other is that they raise the stakes.

Rachel:  Right. That was the piece that I was just thinking about with your example of the battle physics and students consulting with experts in the field is that there’s accountability and an authenticity to that experience. And so it does, they step up their game, because they raise the stakes.

So, I definitely think there’s something I almost wonder if we could rewrite the description about exhibitions, and the meaning and purpose for them to acknowledge some of the ingredients from this book about that being a peak moment with sensory experience and raising the stakes. We have, you know, reminds me of the example that came out of the school we both work with at MEMS. Students presented to the select board about their findings for some research.

In your videos and your footage from that, I can remember them being dressed up and poised. And students talking about how nervous they were, and I thought about that and thought they are going to remember that.

Jeanie:  It reminds me that so many of the things that are memorable or important to our students’ lives are extra-curriculars. You mentioned sports earlier. I think in a lot of communities is drama, the school play is a huge deal and the kids who do it year after year. Or musical performance, right.

You have to perform. You have an audience. The stakes are high.

You’re all in. And kids really passionately commit to that, and to all the learning. Whether it’s learning lines or choreography or learning whole musical pieces, right? There’s a lot of learning that they have to do in order to show up on performance day.

Rachel:  It’s reminding me about a blog post that I wrote about exhibitions, where I wrote about my own experience about exhibitions.  It wasn’t until I participated in an exhibition that I had some new insights into what is happening when we ask students to publicly exhibit work.

I learned two things. When I had to do a public exhibition at the deeper learning conference at High Tech High in California. I can remember being nervous and worried and I felt a little insecure because I was standing there sort of waiting for people to come up to me.

The emotional responses that I was having are doing something to solidify that experience in my brain.

Then the second thing, I realized was when I was explaining that work multiple times to different people, I got better at describing my learning. I actually was learning as I was talking. So, what I started out describing was something that I made with a group of people some of whom were complete strangers in about 40 minutes.

At the beginning of my presentation and exhibition sharing, I was a little embarrassed about the quality of our work and pretty unclear about how we got to this particular visual. By the end of that hour, I actually made sense of it in my own head and got a lot more clear about the different steps we went through in the process of this activity. So, it was interesting for me as an adult to go through that, and we think that’s all practice up for that event, but it was actually during that event that I had some pretty significant learning too.

Performance *is* learning

Jeanie:  I really love that. It reminds me of how we often think of performance of learning, but performance is often learning, right? You work with Flood Brook, and their middle school students presenting their passion projects. It makes me think how many of those kids maybe don’t get it the first time they do passion projects. They may not do it very well. They might not spend their time wisely. Some of them absolutely do, but then through that performance, standing there for an hour and a half explaining their project to so many different people, they might have new learning, new insights that might lead to new skills and habits.

Rachel: Yeah. I definitely agree with you. That’s another example of creating a moment that has that memory and impact for kids.  It does consider building a peak and raising the stakes, because there’s people there. When I’ve talked to students there they say,

“Yeah, this made me work harder, because I knew there were people looking at people watching.”

Jeanie:  So there’s a quote from this section that I just think is so apt for schools. I know even in the book it described schools, with our schedules, our regular routines and schedules as rather flat, and the quote I love is:

“Beware the soul-sucking force of reasonableness.”

It’s just a reminder that what’s reasonable it does not always lead to the most impactful or memorable learning, right? Sometimes we have to be unreasonable and go out of our way to create peak moments. Not all the time, not every day, but sometimes we have to do the extra work, or do the unreasonable thing to invite engineers and architects into our schools to give kids feedback, or to take our kids out into the world to have a peak experience.

Rachel:  Right. I’m finding this part on page 53 where the author says, most of our school experience and life experiences are:

“Mostly forgettable and occasionally remarkable…” The “occasionally remarkable” moments shouldn’t be left to chance! They should be planned for, invested in. They are peaks that should be built. And if we fail to do that, look at what we’re left with: mostly forgettable.

So, that’s inspiring to me to think that we should plan for peaks.

Jeanie:  Yeah. When we work with teachers on project-based learning, we ask them to think about those peaks early on. How well kids exhibit? Who will the audience be beyond you? How will we make this meaningful work for them to do, real relevant meaningful work for them to do?

Rachel:  When you launch in project-based learning, you’re even building a peak to build investment and generate excitement.

Jeanie:  Or you could be utilizing the second thing they talk about in The Power of Moments, which is insight. So a launch could be a peak. It could also be a moment of insight, and I really love this section even though I think it’s trickier. It’s harder for us to imagine where the Heath brothers talk about how when you as a human trip over truth they call it, that it packs an emotional wallop. They give these examples like these moments of discovery, these Aha moments. Do you remember any particular moments from the book?

The power of insight

Rachel: This was a hard section for me.

Jeanie:  One example that I remember is that they bring together all of these professors with their syllabus, and they realize that by looking at their syllabi together, by examining them together, they realize how uninteresting and boring they are. Like they have this moment of insight where they’re like, “Oh, right, this appeals to no one,” so, then they go back and revise. Instead of saying your syllabus stinks, they give them this opportunity to discover it on their own.

Tripping over truth

They talk about the one page, 105. They say there’s a three-part recipe for tripping over the truth: one is that you have this clear insight, it’s compressed in time, and the audience discovers it by itself. So, when I think about that, it reminded me of simulations.

I think a carefully crafted simulation can be that kind of opportunity.

Rachel: As you were talking, I was thinking about those three ingredients, the three-part recipe. It made me think that perhaps when we work with adults, when we work with a group of educators or a group of leaders, and we facilitate a protocol, which you’re famous for, we are conducting one of those three part recipes to trip over the truth.

I’m sure it doesn’t happen in every protocol, but in the best ones we are compressing, it’s compressed in time, and it’s revealed through the process that there are a few really critical insights about some experience or some conflict or some system.

Jeanie:  One of my favorite protocols to do whenever I’m working with adults, but also with kids. I’ve done this with high school kids and with middle school kids around equity and the way we treat people differently and status.  Its called Liar’s Poker. It asks you to get a card that you can’t see and put it on your head two to ace.


The higher your card, if you’re an ace or king or queen, the higher your status. So, you pretend you’re at a party and you’re trying to talk to the highest status people. Really quickly you end up with clumps. So, we do that for about 15 minutes.

Then I ask people to put themselves in order, still not looking at their card, and figure out where do you think you are. Almost always people get in pretty close order from two up to ace. Then we have a discussion. How did it feel to be a two? How did it feel to be an ace? And how did it feel to be an eight? What do you think happened there? How does this relate to what you see happening in school or with students? It really fosters a really rich discussion that allows people to trip over the truth of how inequity shows up in their setting.

Rachel:  That’s a simulation, right?

I mean, you’re simulating some sort of social strata and social experience that really happens.

Jeanie:  Like the brown eyes and blue eyes experiment, where a teacher sort of said that blue eyes kids were smarter and more capable than brown eyes kids. Over the course of several days, this sort of eye racism, this eye bias played out in the classroom. It’s really interesting film to watch. I think it’s from the seventies, you can still find it on YouTube. I’ll make sure to put a link in.

Stretching for insight

Jeanie:  The other thing in the insight chapter that I think is more relevant, especially as we engage in proficiency based education is this idea of stretching for insight. On page 122 and 123, the Heath brothers cite a study on how students respond to feedback. I found that really interesting because so often we think we know the research shows that if a kid just gets a grade, they don’t even read the comments.

High standards + assurance

Rachel:  Yeah. I’m so glad you brought up this part, and so I just turned to page 122 and 123, where the Heath brothers describe the work of a psychologist and a study that they conducted in a, I’m going to call it a middle school, they call it a suburban junior high school. In this particular paper by David Scott Yeager, he says there’s a two-part formula for… sorry, I don’t know what to call this. Anyway, David Yeager identifies a two-part formula in his research and he says “It’s high standards plus assurance.” I think that’s really interesting because I definitely hear schools and teachers talk about having high standards and how important high standards are. I have yet to hear the word assurance.

Jeanie:  This reminds me so much of my podcast with Bill Rich, talking about the culture code and sending this message of, “We have high standards here. You’re a member of this community. I believe you can meet those standards.” Essentially that assurance is like, we’ve got high standards here and I’m certain that you can put in the work to meet them.

Wise criticism

Rachel:  Yeah, and that’s what this psychologist found in his research. The teachers really gave deliberately different feedback in this test group. Rhe comments that the teacher gave to the test group were that high standards and assurance. One particular comment says, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them.” So, that was what the researcher called wise criticism, and almost 80 percent of the wise criticism students revise their papers. In editing their papers they made more than twice as many corrections as the other students.

So, for the other students that received a generic note in the teacher’s handwriting, the note said, “I’m have given you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper,” which is hilarious. In that case, about 40 percent of the students chose to revise their papers. So, the finding is, that second note with the assurance is powerful, because it really changes the behavior of the students.

Jeanie:  We know that in order for students to take feedback and use it well, it has to be clear, it has to be actionable, it has to be timely. They need to be able to use it right away, and that’s the whole crux of proficiency based education is that you get the feedback you need to have to gain that insight, to do the work you need to grow.

Feedback that matters

It reminds me of a story from something I was reading recently about proficiency based education, which is a student goes to their teacher and says, “You know, all year you’ve been writing this word on my essays and I just don’t know what you want me to do.” The teacher says, “Well, what?” He says, “Vaguu”, the word was vague of course.


It has to be meaningful to the students, it can’t just be meaningful to us. The feedback isn’t for us. It isn’t like, we’ve done our job, we wrote on the paper the feedback is for the student, and how do we make it actionable, unintelligible to them.

Rachel:  As we’re talking about this, the section is making more sense. Like, I don’t know why. Some part of me thinks that I got tired at this point in the book as I was reading, which does make me remember that as I read this book, I had wished it was shorter, and I felt like it could have been accomplished in fewer pages. So, this second part about insight was where I got tired in the book. Can we talk about the next section?

Jeanie:  We certainly can.

Not all moments have all of these elements.

Tripping over insight is a particularly difficult thing to accomplish in schools. We can’t all be Mrs. Frizzle in the Magic School bus. We don’t have those powers and that can feel like what it is, is like you have to orchestrate at that level. But a good field trip can help kids trip over insight.

I think about a project that I’m working on at MEMS. We are just starting to plan, which is that we hope kids will be able to discover germs. Not just hear that when you don’t wash your hands that you end up with germs on your hands and you could get sick. But to actually swab for germs and do the tests of what’s it take. How many germs does hand sanitizer get rid of, versus washing your hands with just water, versus washing your hands with soap and singing the happy birthday song? So, that’s the kind of tripping over truth that we’re hoping that they’ll do there.

Let’s move on to pride.

Rachel:  This part was really meaningful to me. There were a couple of particular pieces.

Jeanie:  Could you, before you begin giving particular pieces, just describe what, when we say pride, what they mean?

Rachel:  Gosh, I hardly remember, but I think we all know what pride is. For me, it was their way of describing that within a moment of elevation, there’s a piece that made you feel good. So, it was not just important, but it gave you that validation.

Jeanie:  On page 139, they say,

How do you make moments of pride? The recipe seems clear. You work hard, you put in the time, and as a result, you get more talented and accomplish more and those achievements, spark pride.

Rachel:  You work hard. You put in the time and as a result you get more talented and accomplish more in those achievements, spark pride.

Jeanie:  Simple as that.

Rachel:  That’s doesn’t sound simple.

Jeanie:  No, it doesn’t. They start though by not talking about moments of pride because on page 142, they talk about a moment of, what’s the opposite of pride, of embarrassment that I’ve actually experienced. They talk about the kid who is told like, just don’t sing, your voice doesn’t work. I remember being in fourth grade and getting asked to leave chorus. Suddenly I didn’t belong. I don’t think I sang again until I had an infant.

Rachel:  I’m sorry, Jeanie.

Jeanie:  I know it still pains me, but so they start with the opposite of pride. Those moments of exclusion where you’re like sort of not told the opposite, not that you can get better at something. Not like, here’s how we can help you… I mean, because let’s just be honest, I don’t have a fabulous singing voice. But the way that shuts you down for new learning.


Rachel:  They turned that kind of switch from that exclusionary, kind of punishing selection to recognition and appreciation. So, this part was fairly, in terms of the context of the book, business oriented. It talks about recognizing employees, and perhaps that there are recognition programs within certain businesses and systems and that’s not typical in our education systems.

Jeanie:  However, when I think about the MEMS caring day celebration and the opportunity students had to recognize and celebrate the empathy and kindness of members of our community, it felt exactly like, how do we recognize others?

Rachel:  Exactly.

This piece made me remember how important recognition is for teachers.

I was thinking about how I feel about that it’s hard as a teacher to maintain a positive outlook all the time. It’s a hard profession and certainly, you face a lot of challenges and keeping your morale high requires a resiliency that is hard to find.

I could really think so much about how much personal recognition and personal, what I started to think of as gratitude, made a difference for me. They talked in somewhere about this, about that there is a difference in sort of recognition in a program. I want to find this part. Okay. So, there’s going to be some turning pages.

So, they begin to talk in the book about, how we can recognize people’s contributions on page 147. It says, “Recognition experts recommend…,” I’m going to stop saying that. On page 147, the authors say,

In our own research, when we asked people about the defining moments in their careers, we were struck by how often they cited simple, personal events.

Here are some examples of people who are just describing some really simple praise, I would say, by a boss or a supervisor. So, what the authors of this book notice is that in these cases their recognition is spontaneous. It’s not part of your annual review, and it’s targeted at particular behaviors. What this then reflects on is a paper by some people that talks about how effective recognition makes the employees feel noticed for what they’ve done.

I really thought a lot about that noticing, and to me, that is such an important part of behavior and motivation.

I think about that in terms of education from both an employee within the school level and a student level in the classroom. And I remembered that I have kept some of my recognition over the year. I’ve never won any big awards or anything like that. I have a file in my bookshelf that’s a few inches thick that is basically everything I kept from my 16 years teaching. It’s pretty astounding to me that it could fit in one small shelf.

In there is a lot of forms. I went back through it this morning and remembered that I have kept written thank you notes from people and handwritten notes. As I went back through them today, I remembered why I kept them. Those people said things like, thank you for… This person said, I want to take a moment to thank you for being a wonderful addition to our staff. I admire how you jump in, take risks, and have experienced success.

It made enough of an impact that I’ve kept it.

Jeanie:  I also have a file like that, and my favorite things in it are the handwritten notes from students. I used to keep that file right on my desk when I worked as a school librarian, sort of in a place where if I needed a boost during the day, if I needed a moment of pride or recognition, I could remember why I did what I did even in the tough moments.

I think as teachers we know that implicitly, that if we can give kids some positive feedback, they’re also more likely to hear our constructive feedback or feedback for change.

Rachel:  I hadn’t thought about that, but that’s definitely interesting. This piece about recognition made me automatically think about a little bit of a buzzword in culture right now about gratitude. Coincidentally, this morning I  skimmed an article that came through my inbox about using gratitude with students. About both physical and emotional benefits of asking students in school to express gratitude. I thought this was an interesting idea, because I don’t see that fitting into any curriculum, right? Is that part of science?

And yet we know that there is a two-sided effect to gratitude.

The person who receives the gratitude has that moment of pride or that moment of feeling good, but the even more interesting outcomes are that research shows that you benefit when you give the gratitude. There’s so many good endorphins and serotonin that go on in your body when you express gratitude.

That just made me think about and tunnel into a little mini research about schools that are practicing this. Schools that are asking kids to do gratitude journals.

So, I thought about how could we embed that into some of our routines.

Some of our practices so that we’re just being more intentional about recognition. We could do that at faculty meetings when we recognize or give gratitude to our peers and our colleagues. We could do that at team meetings or advisory when we have students and ask students to express gratitude to their peers or their teachers. And we could do it at all school meetings in a more public setting when we have the whole school together.

We can recognize a student, have asked students to recognize one another, bring a special staff member down, things like that. I thought those are structures that we already have in place that we could possibly maximize to build in that sense of pride.

Jeanie:  Yeah.

I think it’s really important to practice gratitude.

I mean, it’s been really important in my life, but I also think not all of our students come to us with families that practice gratitude. If we want them to be grateful and thankful and experience the win-win of gratitude, the win that other people feel good, and the win that I get to feel good, then we need to build opportunities to practice it.

I want to move on though, because I feel like there are other ways that we in schools think about pride. One is building in opportunities to experience milestones. I think that’s especially important when we’re doing project-based learning or something bigger that can feel endless.

We build in these opportunities for checkpoints or milestones where kids feel like they’re having progress.

It reminded me of something that I know we all think about kids being really into which is, video games. One of the appeals of video games is they have these levels and milestones where you get to feel good because you accomplish something. So, how can we replicate that good feeling you get by reaching the next level in education? Any thoughts about that?

Rachel: I can think of a few things. Your video game reference reminds me of some of the work that’s happening in the state, in our organization, and in the country around badging and sort of digital badging.

It doesn’t necessarily have to gamify education, but that it does try to replicate that experience of identifying a set of skills or activities that once you attain that there’s a gold star.

So, it reminds me of that, but it also reminds me something that’s not really school-based, but something that really interests me, which is about cultural rites of passage. The sort of I don’t know how to say this.

I feel like we maybe don’t have enough cultural rites of passage in our society that are non-religious.

Jeanie: It reminds me of like goal-setting, and so right now I’m on Goodreads. I love Goodreads and one of the things I love about is I get to set a goal that’s meaningful for me and keep track of how I’m doing, how many books I’m going to read that year.

A year is a long time for young adolescents, but I used to use Goodreads with seventh graders, and they would keep track of how much they read and set a goal for themselves, and that was really meaningful for them. I’m sorry, maybe it was eighth graders, but it is like that.

How do you track progress towards your own goals?

It also reminded me of before and after photos and thinking about looking through Eli my son’s portfolio with him as he was graduating, moving towards graduating high school, and looking back over his work that we had collected over the years. He was able to laugh and be like,

“Oh, I remember when that was hard.”

There’s something about looking back and sort of noticing like, “Oh, I used to.” I remember him having this long discourse about, “I remember when Algebra was hard and now it’s not hard anymore.”

So, it made me wonder about writing from the beginning of the school year versus writing at the end of the school year or art or anything that we do in school. Really, you can compare an early draft, to work that you do on down the road.

Rachel:  Well, my thinking immediately jumps to what would be some of the ideal functions of a PLP, which would be that growth charting.  One of the outcomes of doing that, of collecting that work and reflecting on it would be to feel that sense of pride in the end.

Practicing courage

Jeanie:  Another thing they talk about in this chapter that really struck me was this idea of practicing courage. They cite DARE and DARE’s failure to prevent kids from using substances. They say one of the reasons is that kids never get the chance to practice saying no to substances. Like there’s all this education, but they never actually practiced. They never go through the script.

That reminded me of one of my former students who did some research on hate speech and found that hate speech leads to hate crimes and she wanted to interrupt hate speech. She created this hate speech photo booth where you could practice what you would say if you heard somebody use a racial slur or say something homophobic.

So, you might write on your speech bubble, “Hey, that’s not okay,” because in the moment when you hear hate speech it can be hard to know what to say. In a way, you were practicing courage by writing your script. Does that makes sense?

So, it made me wonder, how do we give students an opportunity to practice courage to stand up?

It made me think of Anna Nicholson, students going before the select board to advocate for a plastic bag ban, which is something they believed in strongly and they’ve collected petitions. They’ve done all this research about plastic bags and they had to practice courage to stand up to a bunch of adults and say, “We think the town should ban plastic bags.” The town did not play banned plastic bags, but they were really impressed with what the students had to say.

So, how do we help kids practice moral courage, intellectual courage? I don’t have a good answer to that either, but it’s a question that really intrigues me.

Rachel:  It interests me too. My fear is that we don’t do enough of it, because of possible controversy. I think that we’re afraid to do things that will make people uncomfortable and kids uncomfortable.

It reminds me of a professional experience that I had this year listening to a woman who’s an expert in childhood anxiety disorders and talking about how do we help anxious children in school. There are skyrocketing numbers of anxious children in school.

She talked about what essentially the Heath brothers identify on page 185, which is exposure therapy. We don’t reduce the anxiety by removing the anxiety-producing experience.

We reduce the anxiety by sort of slowly encountering and learning how to manage that experience.

I’m afraid we don’t do that enough.

Jeanie:  It reminds me of Christie Nold students and how they did that work with adults of helping them explore their identities. I can’t help but think that had to have been a moment of pride for her students. They got to get up and teach the adults in their building about different identity groups and how they could think more deeply about their own identities and what that means for how they are in the school.

Rachel:  Yeah. If I’m looking back at this page about courage, and it says on page 185,

Managing fear, the goal of exposure therapy is a critical part of courage.

It goes on to say,

But courage isn’t just suppressed fear. It’s also the knowledge of how to act in that moment.

That’s an area of growth for us.

How to expose students to moments that require courage and develop the knowledge of how to act in that moment.

Jeanie:  Listeners, you can’t see us, but Rachel and I are both smiling at this opportunity for new growth and I hope you are too. The last way that the Heath brothers define powerful moments is talking about connection. This just made a lot of sense to me. Do you want to talk a little bit about what they mean by connection?


Rachel:  Yeah. I think connection is possibly easier for our readers to understand. So, they say as you know, there are moments of elevation, insight and pride, but they’re also social moments. They’re most memorable, because others are present, and that moments of connection deepen our relationship with others. So, not only are these defining moments, but these are social moments that provide a peak moment of connection.

I wanted to push back a little bit on this and start to wonder if it had to be, and we do know that the authors of the book say the powerful moments don’t have to have all these ingredients. So I thought, let’s just be clear that there is the possibility that a moment could be a powerful, impactful moment and not a social moment.

The type of moments they’re describing in these are, when these moments create shared meaning and connect us together.

So, personally I’m really cognizant of how important social connection is in my own life, and how meaningful that is to my own learning. So, this wasn’t surprising to me. It was affirming. But something that did surprise me was some research that they describe about creating moments of connection.

It’s from the research of this person, Morten Hansen from UC Berkeley. It’s work-related, it’s kind of business related. He has a book coming out called Great at Work: How Top Performers Work Less and Achieve More. They described his research on pages 216 to 219, but essentially, he explores the distinction between purpose and passion.

Purpose is the sense you’re contributing to others, that your work has brought or meeting. Passion is the feeling of excitement or enthusiasm you have about your work. This researcher was curious, which would have a greater effect on job performance.

Essentially, his research finds that purpose trumps passion.

So, it goes against some of what we’ve heard is as a cultural message. The authors say essentially we should not be saying pursue your passion but pursue your purpose. Of course, it’s great to combine both, but when you can find meaning for your work, you cultivate that purpose.

Jeanie:  It makes me think about relevance, about making learning more relevant either to the real world or to kids’ lives. That it feels more purposeful or if you’re doing something like on the engagement hierarchy, if you’re doing something for the good of others, that’s like the highest level of engagement.

That makes me think about that purpose, that sense of purpose and connection to others and the good of our culture, or the good of your community.

I’m also thinking back to when you talked about how school is really flat, and I’m thinking about my own son who could occasionally be a class clown.  I think when school got too flat, and he didn’t feel connected, he used humor to create his own peaks and to connect with his peers, because he was like, if nothing’s happening in here and I don’t want to feel connected, I’m going to make my own fun.

So, it just made me think about, it might cost him greatly. He might get in trouble, his grade might go down, but it was worth the payoff to him to have that connection with a classmate.

Rachel:  That’s interesting. Certainly, we can when we talk about kids who are demonstrating a behavior like that, we often think that it’s about seeking attention. I had never thought about being a moment of connection. I have a tendency to be that kid sometimes. And I think for me it is about connection. That, I’m breaking the protocol or breaking the rules to seek connection with other people.

Jeanie:  That ties us back to the last section about like we want to be seen and heard. We want to be noticed, right?

Rachel:  Yeah.

Students should feel like if they don’t show up at school, the place can’t run without them

Jeanie:  All of us. I have been thinking about Cabot Leads and service learning and thinking about, I’m not sure who said the quote, but this idea that students should feel like if they don’t show up at school, the place can’t run without them. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

At Cabot Leads where students get jobs, they create these connections, whether it’s with other people that work in the cafeteria or with a specific teacher or with the student, the younger student that they’re mentoring or a reading buddy, right? They create these really meaningful connections that increase their motivation and makes the school day more memorable for them.

Rachel:  Well, and there’s such an inherent purpose in that. When they have those jobs, they feel like they have a meaning. They have a contribution that they need to make.

Jeanie:  This makes me think of personalized learning plans too, and when those feel like they don’t have purpose, they can fall flat for students.

How could we help kids build purpose into them for what they’re learning?

I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity there if we can let go the soul-sucking reasonableness of the daily school day to make them really powerful, motivating tools for learning.

Rachel:  Well, this book inspired me a great deal to push for these moments. One of the things I’m working on right now is designing an experience for the eighth graders in three of our schools where they have this kind of elevated experience. I’m not going to be the person following this through all the way, but I’m pretty invested in seeing this happen because I want this experience for our young people. In this case, it’s eighth graders. I think there is that sense of connection built in there that this is, I will find something that matters to me through this experience.

I hope I can only hope.

Jeanie:  Listeners, we strongly recommend you take a gander at this book, The Power of Moments. There’s so much in here that is relevant to education and that can be used to build really meaningful moments for your students. Rachel, thanks so much for talking to me about this book.

Jeanie: I’m Jeanie Phillips, and this has been an episode of #vted Reads, talking about what Vermont’s educators and students are reading. Thank you to Rachel Mark for appearing on the show and talking with me about The Power of Moments. If you’re looking for a copy of The Power of Moments, check your local library. That’s where I got mine. To find out more about #vted Reads, including past episodes, upcoming guests and reads, and a whole lot more you can visit vtedreads.tarrantinstitute.org. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @vtedreads. This podcast is a project of the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont. Special thanks to the Manchester Public Library for hosting us today.

5 summer mindsets to bring into this year

#1st5days icon: which word will define your start to the new school year?It’s September. Your feet have probably not stopped moving for a few weeks, with the start of school, the meetings, getting to know your students, setting up all the systems and explaining all the procedures, learning about all the new changes in your schools.

You might feel like your brain has too many tabs open.

Stop for a moment. Summer is not yet a disappearing memory. And while summer can be busy in different ways, with other work, professional development, family travel and childcare, it can also give us shiny jewels of ways of being that can last all year. I’m hoping you had a chance to stop — really stop — and enjoy some time with friends and family. That can be the fuel that helps guide the school year.

Continue reading 5 summer mindsets to bring into this year

5 resources for building community

Starting how you mean to go on

#1st5days icon: which word will define your start to the new school year?New year, new students. New school, sometimes, and a whole new opportunity to help a group of students celebrate and explore their individuality while respecting and appreciating each other’s differences. And yours, too.

Let’s explore five resources for building community in your classroom during the #1st5days.

Continue reading 5 resources for building community